For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage

How did you meet your partner?

This question is often the first I ask when I sit down with couples for the first time, both as a photographer and as a therapist. I love rekindling the emotions that first drew couples together – the nervous excitement, the focused adoration.

According to Tara Parker-Pope’s fresh read For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, the manner in which couples reminisce about their first meeting is predictive of the security of their marriage.  Summarizing research by the renowned Dr. John Gottman, For Better suggests that the how-we-met story is 94% accurate (!) in reflecting which couples will divorce, and which couples will stay married. Feel free to chew on that statistical nugget for a moment.

Here’s how Gottman’s study worked: Gottman gathered 52 couples and asked them how they met their partner. Their stories were then evaluated, and the couples who reminisced that first meeting affectionately and fondly were destined to stay together, whereas the couples whose stories were laced with regret and bitterness were headed for divorce.

The science of it is discussed in the book, but essentially your brain is on a dopamine (feel-good) high during the first twitterpated days of your relationship. The critical-thinking part of your brain has gone on vacation, so you’re able to fall head-over-heels without paying much attention to your partner’s less lovable traits.

If you are happily married, you likely remember those first meetings with selective attention on your partner’s positive characteristics (e.g, “He was so buff – it was kind of cute that he was still sweaty from his workout”). However, if your how-we-met story is tinged with snark (e.g., “he was disgusting and stinky from the gym and didn’t bother to change clothes,”), it may be a reflection of discontent in your marriage. Current perception shapes which aspects of our memories we focus on.

So, how did you meet? Leave your story or reflections in the comment section; we’d love to read them!

As a bonus, here’s our how-we-met story from megan’s perspective…

I remember exactly where we were standing during our first one-on-one conversation: right next to some bleachers in the center of our church’s youth center. I was wearing a knee-length skirt and fitted sweater; he was wearing oversized jeans and a quicksilver t-shirt. We talked about art and faith, and I remember being intrigued by his kindness, maturity, and passion for learning.

Then, a few weeks into our budding friendship it happened:

He asked me Prom.

Fastforward to Prom 2000 at the Disneyland Hotel. I had the time of my life bonding with Daniel and his sweet group of friends, and before we knew it the last dance had arrived: “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight”.

Daniel is kind of an old-fashioned guy, so when he started whispering a serenade of this oldie in my ear as we swayed back and forth, it seemed just right. I remember that it was during that slow-dance that I fell for Daniel. Hard. And I have the diary entries to prove it.

So, that’s how we met. How about you? What reflections do you have on Gottman’s study? I, for one, am curious: if we practice re-telling our how-we-met stories in an optimistic light do you think we can create happier, more secure marriages? It couldn’t hurt..

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